Victor Martinez has hit .227 since the All-Star break, when he returned from a back injury. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)
Consistent with a sometimes freaky 2014 season that has had its starry moments and stretches, as well as its tumbles, the Tigers tore into Angels ace Garrett Richards in last Thursday’s opener of a four-game series at Angel Stadium of Anaheim.
They were ready for his high-90s fastball. And when Richards backed away from his fireball, they clobbered his breaking stuff.
The Tigers looked like a playoff team — like a visiting club that was about to show the hallowed Angels, a very good home team, just how fierce were the boys from Detroit.
That was Thursday. By the time manager Brad Ausmus’ team had slogged through the next three games, the Tigers had scored all of two runs. And brownouts of that kind have been way too common since Ausmus & Co. resumed work following the All-Star break.
Ian Kinsler is hitting .174 since the break. Victor Martinez, who hit 21 home runs and was competing for a batting championship ahead of the All-Star Game intermission, has since hit .227 with zero homers.
J.D. Martinez, the right-handed ramrod who had been a game-changer for the Tigers since he began playing regularly, is at .129 with no homers since the season’s second half began July 18. Alex Avila? It is almost too gory to believe: .097 since the break, with 13 strikeouts in 31 at-bats.
No other Tigers hitter has been able to compensate, not even Miguel Cabrera, who is hitting .319 with two home runs — healthy numbers but well beneath Cabrera’s normal rate of return.
Elsewhere, Nick Castellanos is holding his own at .269, while his rookie sidekick, Eugenio Suarez, is at .231. Torii Hunter has a couple of long homers, although his post-break batting average, .242, is in step with too many others in Ausmus’ lineup. Rajai Davis is one of the few semi-regulars hitting above his career average. Davis is hitting .300 in 20 at-bats.
“Teams go through this,” Ausmus said after a 2-1 rollover to the Angels in the finale during which the Tigers had all of three hits against a parade of pitchers. “It’s never good timing, but teams go through this.”
Yes, they do, and no, Detroit’s timing was not good against Los Angeles. After they had won the series opener, the Tigers were only a game behind the Angels in the loss column as likely playoff teams fight for that invaluable edge known as home-field advantage.
The Tigers traditionally have had their troubles on the West Coast, as many teams two time zones removed from California, do. Even more traditionally they have had bad episodes with the Angels (13-3 against the Tigers in their last 16 and 9-1 at home).
And so Thursday night’s bust-out against Richards (seven hits, four runs, in six innings) and tack-on runs against the bullpen seemed to signify Detroit was about to finally bully the Angels in the manner of a Central Division leader intent on grabbing a championship flag in 2014.
Then the bats went cold: one run Friday, no runs Saturday, one run Sunday.
This sudden stock-slide for Ausmus’ gang would not be as surprising if the bats had been failing during those initial 90-plus games. But the Tigers are still second in the big leagues in hitting (.275 to the .282 by the Rockies). They are fifth among 30 teams in runs, 10th in home runs, and second to the Rockies in baseball’s most telling offensive statistic, OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).
And so one would deduce the Tigers are, in fact, dealing with a virus that should pass as a team steadily returns to its old, more robust ways.
Just what has happened to Ausmus’ crew in July’s second half could be attributable to the usual convoy of maladies that can dump a slump on a team in a snap, helped here and there by the usual instances of rotten luck.
Victor Martinez is 35 and, even with his renowned skills, was probably due for a market correction.
“I think time off (All-Star break, and an earlier five-game absence because of a back injury) definitely affected his timing at the plate,” Ausmus said. “He’s still hit some balls pretty hard.”
J.D. Martinez is a career .264 hitter, which puts more into context his dazzling June-early July numbers that were destined to drop.
Kinsler is better than .174, but with summer and schedules working at most players 100 games into a season, he was entitled to cool. Hunter has been hanging in at 39, but July and August may not be as kind to him as during earlier years.
As for Avila, he must do better — 150 points better, at least — than .097. He is so essential to a team because of his defense, pitch-calling, and arm, that his capital tends to be underappreciated by fans and more accurately valued by teammates and bosses.
But neither can the Tigers forfeit offense from what is, and always has been, a position that calls for hitting and run-production.
Ausmus insists the Tigers will hit — just as they did during those first 91 games. And he likely is right, simply because 91 games, and past track records, are not small samples.
It would simply boost a manager and his team’s playoff authenticity if the bats began getting warmer in a hurry, say, beginning with tonight’s home series against the White Sox at Comerica Park.
A look at the Tigers offense since the All-Star break:
|Miguel Cabrera||15- 47||.319||2|